BERN, Switzerland — Roman Polanski was declared a free man on Monday after Switzerland rejected a U.S. request to extradite him to be sentenced for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.
The Swiss government blamed the decision on U.S. authorities, saying they had failed to address defence arguments that the 76-year-old filmmaker had actually served his sentence before fleeing Los Angeles three decades ago.
Nine months after arresting Polanski, the Justice Ministry said U.S. officials should have backed up their request by providing confidential testimony about Polanski’s sentencing procedure in L.A.
“Mr. Polanski can now move freely,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared. “He’s a free man.”
The stunning decision could end the United States’ long pursuit of Polanski. France, where he has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens and Polanski has had little trouble travelling throughout Europe — even if he’s stayed away from Britain.
The U.S. cannot appeal the decision, but Polanski is still a fugitive in the United States.
“That warrant remains outstanding,” Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini said, adding that Polanski could be arrested and sent back to the U.S. if he travelled to another country that has an extradition deal with the United States.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on its next steps.
The Swiss decision was praised by senior government officials in France and Poland, where he holds dual citizenship. But there was criticism from groups representing victims of sexual abuse.
The Oscar-winning director of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist was accused of plying his victim with champagne and part of a Quaalude during a 1977 modeling shoot and raping her.
He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy, but pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.
In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again.
The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterward he would ask Polanski to agree to a “voluntary deportation.” Polanski then fled the country on the eve of his Feb. 1, 1978, sentencing.
The Swiss government’s main argument concerned confidential testimony given on Jan. 26 by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles attorney in charge of the original prosecution against Polanski. The Swiss asked for the transcript, but Washington rejected the request.
Based on references to Gunson’s testimony in U.S. courts, the Swiss said it “should prove” that Polanski served his sentence after undergoing the diagnostic study.